By Phil O'Keefe |
Small diaphragm electret condenser microphone matched pair
By Phil O'Keefe
Small diaphragm condensers tend to get less love in some circles than other types of microphones. Many people tend to gravitate towards the sexier large diaphragm condensers, or towards tried-and-true dynamic mike models, but a good pair of small diaphragm condensers is something nearly every recordist and studio should have, regardless of size. Certainly anyone who records acoustic instruments should have at least one pair. While they tend to be a bit noisier than large diaphragm models, they're often more accurate sounding, with less off-axis coloration.
For many years, Australian mic manufacturer Rode has offered their mid-priced NT5 small diaphragm condenser microphones, and that model has been generally very well received, with excellent sales and lots of positive reviews. In an effort to make quality small diaphragm Rode condenser microphones available to an even wider audience, they've developed the new M5; an even more affordable small diaphragm condenser mic with similar sound and characteristics to the more expensive NT5. The M5 is currently available only as a matched pair.
What You Need To Know
- Rode has long been known for their excellent high quality, yet low cost microphones, and the M5 is going to do nothing to jeopardize that reputation. The M5's were designed and are are built in Australia.
- The Rode M5 is a all-new design. Unlike the NT5 and NT55 which use true externally polarized condenser capsules, it uses a 1/2" pre-polarized electret condenser capsule with a permanently-charged backplate.
- The capsule is mounted into a beautifully machined all-metal mic body that measures 100mm x 20mm and weighs in at 80 grams. The mic body is covered with a tough matte black ceramic coating, and the whole thing has the appearance of a solid, well engineered, professional grade product.
- Like the NT5, the M5 is transformerless, and uses a JFET impedance converter with bipolar output buffer. The electronics utilize surface mount technology, and the XLR output pins are gold plated. The M5 requires 24V or 48V phantom power for operation.
- The Rode M5 is an end-address mic and has a cardioid polar pattern, which picks up sound arriving from the front while being much less sensitive to sound arriving from the rear. The polar pattern is reasonably tight and consistent, regardless of frequency, although it's slightly tighter at higher frequencies as you might expect. Off-axis response is quite nice. As you move off-axis, the timbre stays fairly consistent while the level attenuates, as you would expect with a cardioid polar pattern. The strong off-axis performance makes the M5 a good choice for stereo recording.
- The 20Hz-20kHz frequency response leans towards flat - it ramps up from 20Hz and is essentially flat from about 60Hz until around 1kHz, and it dips a dB or so at 2kHz but ramps up from 3kHz or so with a broad peak of approximately 3dB that's centered at around 7-8kHz and that doesn't return to flat until about 15-16kHz, after which it starts to drop off to where it's 2-3dB down at 20kHz. The subjective sound is fairly flat but very slightly forward in the upper mids and top, but without the heavy high frequency boost or large presence peak of some other microphones.
- Being a matched pair, their sensitivity is within 1dB of each other, and I was pleased with how consistent the two M5 microphones were. They sounded essentially identical, and I was able to use them on mono sources interchangeably, without being able to discern any significant timbre or sensitivity differences between them.
- Acoustic guitar is probably one of the sound sources that small diaphragm condensers are most often tasked with recording in a home studio, and the M5's work very well in that application, providing a balanced, articulate sound that is quite detailed and takes EQ well. They're also very useable as drum overhead microphones, and I thought they also performed decently on handheld percussion. One of the bigger surprises was how well the M5 works on electric guitar amps. It can take lots of level (140dB SPL maximum) and in cases where a condenser-type sound is called for, the M5 is definitely able to deliver.
- While vocals aren't primarily what the M5's were designed to capture, they can work on them in a pinch. When I tried using one on a thinner-sounding tenor voice, it was fairly sibilant, and pulling off a little in the 10-12kHz range and adding a bit in the upper midrange region generally improved things on that particular vocal. There is lots of detail, and even with close-miking techniques, I had no issues with plosives - but then again, I was using the stock WS5 foam windscreen along with a metal mesh pop filter. It's nice that Rode includes the foam windscreens with the microphones.
- Rode also includes RM5 stand adapters for both microphones. These have 5/8" threads, but also come with inserts for use with stands with 3/8" threads. An adjustable lever on the side allows for easy tightening after you adjust the angle to your liking, which is a nice touch. But that's it on the accessories - there's no bag or case included.
- The Rode M5 microphones are covered by a one year warranty, which Rode will extend to a full ten years if the owner registers their purchase online with Rode.
- The capsules are fixed and non-removable. Unlike the Rode NT5 and many other small diaphragm condenser microphones, you can not swap out the cardioid capsule for an omni one, or easily replace a damaged capsule.
- There are no pad or high pass filter switches on the M5. In many situations this will not be an issue; the M5 can take pretty hot levels, but with a sensitivity rating of -34 dB re 1V/Pa and a maximum output level of +13.5dBu (@ 1kHz, 1% THD, into a 1kOhm load), if your mic pre doesn't have a pad, in rare cases you may find yourself needing to use an inline pad when working with really hot sound sources to prevent overload.
- The 19dBA SPL self noise of the M5, while really not that bad (especially by budget small diaphragm condenser mic standards) is 3 dB higher than the Rode's NT5. Similarly, the dynamic range is a bit less with the M5, but in most situations, neither is likely to be a major concern for the majority of users.
- What you get, while quite nice for the money, is what you get - the M5 is probably not a good candidate for modifications or third-party upgrades due to the non-detachable electret condenser capsule and the surface mount electronics.
I was generally quite pleased with the performance of the M5's. The build quality is a definite step up from many budget small diaphragm condensers - everything feels solid and rugged - like it's built to last. The sound quality is quite respectable too, and even if you have far more expensive small diaphragm condensers available to you, adding a pair of M5's for use as extra spot mikes may make a lot of sense, and you won't be disappointed with their sound. Beginners and recording neophytes can purchase the M5's with confidence, with the knowledge that the microphones are capable of doing excellent sounding recordings, and that they won't be quickly outgrown.
Let's be brutally honest - if you're expecting a pair of high-end Schoeps mikes for $200 "street", you're not going to get that from the M5, or any other sub-$200 mic that I know of. But let me be equally blunt - while there are nicer / quieter microphones out there (going for considerably more money I might add), the M5 is a serious contender in its price range - in fact, if you can't do professional-quality recordings with a pair of these microphones, then it's your chops that are the issue, not the quality of the gear. At about half the price of a pair of Rode's popular NT5 model, the M5 offers similar performance and sound - and that makes them a fantastic bargain. For large studios who never seem to have enough microphones, a pair of M5's can be a useful additional utility pair, and for a smaller studio or home recording setup, they offer a excellent low-cost way to get into a matched pair of quality small diaphragm microphones that will still be useful regardless of what other mikes you may add to your collection later. With their detailed sound, excellent build quality and affordable price, the Rode M5 small diaphragm condenser microphones are sure to be a hit with not only the project studio market, but also with bargain-conscious professional studios and engineers as well. I definitely recommend checking a pair out if you have the opportunity.
Rode M5 1/2" Cardioid Condenser Microphone matched pair ($325.00 / pair MSRP, $199.00 / pair "street")
Rode's M5 product web page
To discuss the Rode M5, stereo microphone techniques, and all things recording and studio related, be sure to check out the Studio Trenches forum right here on Harmony Central.
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.